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Russian sailors will be based in Abkhazia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, January 28
Russia is ready to start building a naval base in the town of Ochamchire, states the Russian Navy HQ.

De facto President of Abkhazia Sergey Baghapsh has announced that Russia may start establishing a base in Ochamchire in 2009. He also noted however that no documents have been signed between the separatist authorities and Moscow regarding this as yet. However Baghapsh stated that “according to the agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance between Abkhazia and Russia, Abkhazia is ready for the practical cooperation in this sphere and for an official agreement, with the cooperation of the [Russian] Black Sea Navy.”

The statement of the de facto President was confirmed in Moscow. “We will start work on the enlarging the sea bed on the Abkhazian coast. This is large scale work, we will need several years to complete it,” a Russian Navy representative told the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency on January 26. He added that a base at Ochamchire, a small town located 60 km east of Sokhumi, would be able to host small and large troop carriers.

The de facto Abkhazian authorities have confirmed their readiness to “provide any kind of assistance” with the building of the base. “Our position is explained easily – the more Russian servicemen are deployed on the territory of Abkhazia, the firmer security guarantees we have,” said so-called Foreign Minister of the separatist region Sergey Shamba, speaking to the Russian journalists on January 27. He added that Ochamchire was a base for Soviet military vessels before the fall of the USSR, and there is some infrastructure left there from that time. “That is why this town was chosen for the Russian Fleet,” said Shamba.

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a statement calling Moscow’s plans for a naval base in Abkhazia “another expression of the Russian side’s militarist aspirations.” “These reports provide further evidence of what Georgia has been repeatedly trying to prove. All the actions of Russia directed against Georgia – the promotion of separatism and support for the separatist regimes, the militarization of the conflict zones, direct aggression against the sovereign state, the invasion of Georgian territories, the ethnic cleansing conducted on these territories and the attempts to legitimize its proxy regimes based on ethno-fascism have served, in the final analysis, the purpose of providing a solid bridgehead for Russian military bases.

“Given the absence of international control and against the background of occupation forces preventing all international organizations not only from conducting monitoring on, but also from entering, the occupied territories, Russia does all in its power to achieve its military build-up in these regions. It is an observable fact that the Russian side’s appetite keeps gradually increasing. Referthis time to the creation of three military bases on Abkhazian territory. The likelihood is that this number will increase in the near future,” says the statement.

Georgian State Minister on Reintegration Issues Temur Iakobashvili also commented on the Russian Navy’s statement. “The creation of a naval base on Ochamchire is part of the Russian occupational plan. I want to warn the authors of the idea not to put too much into this project, because one day this base will be liquidated just like the other military sites of the occupation regime on Georgian territory. I advise them to spend this money on the minimalization of the consequences of the crisis or education.”

According to the previous agreements signed between Moscow and the de facto authorities of the Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia will deploy about 7,000 soldiers and military equipment in bases located in these places. Moscow explains this by the need to “protect security and peace” in the South Caucasus.

Independent Georgian political analyst Gia Khukhashvili considers that Moscow’s decision is the continuation of its existing policy in the South Caucasus. “The situation in the [South Caucasus] region has changed already. Now Russia has established new borders for its state and the Ochamchire base seems to be a part of this process.” Khukhashvili says it is less possible for Ochamchire to become an alternative base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet now based in Sevastopol, because “Russia will not give up its position in Ukraine either.” Speaking to The Messenger on January 27, Khukhashvili stated that the Ochamchire naval base may become one of the factors which would make NATO “think twice” before providing military assistance to Georgia directly from Georgian coastal towns.